With all the fad diets and outlandish wellness trends out there, it can be hard to know what healthy eating actually looks like. The good news? Eating in a way that honors your health — and your heart health in particular — is much more straightforward than you might think.
"Diet is one of the most important factors contributing to heart health," says Joanna Troulakis, MD, a cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Queens. "Foods that are especially heart-healthy are those that are high in healthy unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, and low in saturated fat," she says, as well as plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, which are high in fiber.
What is it about these foods that can benefit your heart? They can reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and in doing so they lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral artery disease. They also have plenty of health benefits beyond your cardiovascular system, Dr. Troulakis says, like fighting inflammation, promoting brain health and supporting good digestion. And while it’s important to eat satisfying foods that you enjoy, Dr. Troulakis says that sodium, sugar and saturated fat are all things to mindfully limit in a heart-healthy diet.
Of course, food isn’t everything when it comes to health. Behaviors like abstaining from smoking and drugs, engaging in regular physical activity and limiting or eliminating alcohol can reduce your risk of heart disease as well. And, there are factors like genetics and your environment that play a role but are largely out of your control. Still, adding more heart-healthy foods to your diet can have a real impact, and the recipes below help you do that in a way that’s simple, delicious and satisfying.
Start with hummus, which is made with heart-healthy chickpeas and makes for a great snack (use pita chips or raw vegetables as dippers) or sandwich spread.